Sunday, March 18, 2012

Making a practice checklist...

Like every skill, lampworking requires a crap-ton of practice. It's actually kind of an in-joke in the Lampwork Etc. community. Whenever someone asks if there is a tip or a trick that will give a newbie the key to unlock a particular technique the invariable answer is, "PPP!" which of course means "Practice, Practice, Practice!"

When you start lampworking, and you make your first few wonky beads, you become addicted to the melt of the glass, the heat of the torch, and the way that just turning a molten blob of glass on a mandrel can create work of art. It might be a crappy looking, lopsided work of art, with sticky-out, ragged holes, but it has the potential to be something breathtaking, and it calls to you to keep trying. You see the work of other glass artists and you really can't believe that you will someday be able to make straight stringer, or perfect dimpled holes, or even an even bead for that matter. But after a few hundred beads, without realizing it's happening, your holes are dimpled, your stringer is straight, and you can make an even bead in your sleep. And if you compared your 100th bead with your 1st bead, you wouldn't even recognize that first one.

With as little time as I have in my schedule for torching, I become frustrated with how many techniques I want to learn and practice and the fact that I'm also trying to make beads for sale that use the techniques I've already learned. And, the more techniques I learn, the more varied and interesting the beads I put up for sale will be. The problem is, I barely have enough time to make 10 beads a night, let alone practice a new technique at least 10 times so I can consider it added to my repertoire. So tonight's blog is about making a list of the techniques I want to learn, and planning to set aside 1 or 2 torching sessions a week to strictly practice the new techniques. What I feel I've been doing up 'til now is just flailing around, making a nice bead I can sell, then feeling guilty that I'm "neglecting my education" and trying out a technique I don't have down yet, then feeling guilty that I'm not making sale-able beads, and so on. You get the picture.

I started my list on Lampwork Etc. by taking a poll. I posted this earlier today and I already have 27 responses:

Making cubes?00%
Lentil shaping?13.70%
Twisting dots?27.41%
Making twisties?27.41%
Raised stinger work?27.41%
Layering dots?13.70%
Raised flowers?13.70%
Melted flowers?00%
Layered petals?13.70%
Fine melted stringer?00%
Shaping tubes?13.70%
Consistent sizes?414.81%
Making color sample beads for my swatch bead box?27.41%

There are a few other techniques I could list here, but I figured this was a good start.

As you can see, the overwhelming majority favor encasing as the first technique I should practice, so, as soon as I started noticing that trend, I turned on the torch and went to it.

Now, I only made 4 or 5 encaased beads out of the dozen or 15 that I made today, but I think I made a couple great strides, figuring out how to preheat the rod for about 2-3 inches to give the melting end a head start, how to wind on from right to left instead of left to right so my hand isn't blocking my view of where the rod is laying down the glass against the encasing layer that's already there, and I'm figuring out how to melt the sides of the encasing layer so I can prod the glass towards the mandrel but not actually touching it, so that my encased bead holes can have the not-yet-famous perfect Aimee pucker.  (My pucker was the first thing I got perfect, and I've always been kinda proud of that fact. :^)

The first two of those tricks I listed (the preheating and the winding from right to left) I actually figured out on my own.  I've never heard anyone talk about them, so a while ago I shared the right to left winding thing on LWE and was met with approval and thanks.  The reason I'm saying this is 'cause I believe that it's very important to share back with a community that has shared so much with me, and I want to encourage anyone who comes up with a new technique or a new trick to share it around instead of hording it just to make a few bucks on a tutorial.  Yeah, that's me, on a soap box.  I'll get off now.

That last technique I mention, about prodding the encasing layer toward the mandrel, I learned from watching Laura Sparling's YouTube video on encasing. Her video tutorials are really the cream of the crop, with precise instructions, great video, decent sound, and a friendly, well spoken instructor.  You can see my blog post about Laura here.

So, now all I gotta do is practice that encasing another dozen or so times and I'll have it down enough to start making encased beads to sell.  Only problem is, the clear I currently have sucks.  I'm not gonna bad mouth a particular glass manufacturer, especially since the first batch I got of this brand was fantastic, I'm just gonna direct you to Lampwork Etc. where you can read all about the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to clear. To make a long story short, all I have to encase with are the colored transparents.  Which, when you think about it, isn't as bad as I am making it out.  I just love the look of a crisp, clean, clear encasing.  I just have to wait for my next order from my favorite glass merchant, Frantz Art Glass.

Oh oh! Oh oh oh!  Frantz is currently having one of their 70% off Vetrofond glass sales!  You gotta check it out! How many exclamation points can I use in a sentence?!? Apparently, A LOT!!! :^)

The management would like to apologize if you are reading this blog post after the Frantz sale has ended.  That's part of the problem with media. But don't worry, Frantz's glass sales are like the weather here on Kauai.  If you don't like it, wait five minutes and it'll change.

Oh, and since I have that great new camera I talked about in my last post, tomorrow I'll show off pictures of the encased and non-encased beads that are currently cookin' in the kiln.

After midnight, time for bed.

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